"Off there to the right—somewhere—is a large island," said
Whitney. "It's rather a mystery—"
"What island is it?" Rainsford asked.
"The old charts call it `Ship-Trap Island,'" Whitney replied.
"A suggestive name, isn't it? Sailors have a curious dread of
the place. I don't know why. Some superstition—"
"Can't see it," remarked Rainsford, trying to peer through
the dank tropical night that was palpable as it pressed its thick
warm blackness in upon the yacht.
"You've good eyes," said Whitney, with a laugh, "and I've
seen you pick off a moose moving in the brown fall bush at four
hundred yards, but even you can't see four miles or so through
a moonless Caribbean night."
"Nor four yards," admitted Rainsford. "Ugh! It's like moist
"It will be light enough in Rio," promised Whitney. "We
should make it in a few days. I hope the jaguar guns have come
from Purdey's. We should have some good hunting up the
Amazon. Great sport, hunting."
"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.
"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for the jaguar."
"Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford. "You're a big-game
hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?"
"Perhaps the jaguar does," observed Whitney.
"Bah! They've no understanding."
"Even so, I rather think they understand one thing—fear. The
fear of pain and the fear of death."
"Nonsense," laughed Rainsford. "This hot weather is making
you soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two
classes—the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are
hunters. Do you think we've passed that island yet?"
"I can't tell in the dark. I hope so."
"Why?" asked Rainsford.
"The place has a reputation—a bad one."
"Cannibals?" suggested Rainsford.
"Hardly. Even cannibals wouldn't live in such a God-forsaken
place. But it's gotten into sailor lore, somehow. Didn't you notice
that the crew's nerves seemed a bit jumpy today?"
"They were a bit strange, now you mention it. Even Captain
"Yes, even that tough-minded old Swede, who'd go up to the
devil himself and ask him for a light. Those fishy blue eyes held
a look I never saw there before. All I could get out of him was
`This place has an evil name among seafaring men, sir.' Then
he said to me, very gravely, `Don't you feel anything?'—as if
the air about us was actually poisonous. Now, you mustn't
laugh when I tell you this—I did feel something like a sudden
"There was no breeze. The sea was as flat as a plate-glass
window. We were drawing near the island then. What I felt was
a—a mental chill; a sort of sudden dread."
"Pure imagination," said Rainsford.
"One superstitious sailor can taint the whole ship's company
with his fear."
"Maybe. But sometimes I think sailors have an extra sense
that tells them when they are in danger. Sometimes I think evil
is a tangible thing—with wave lengths, just as sound and light
have. An evil place can, so to speak, broadcast vibrations of
evil. Anyhow, I'm glad we're getting out of this zone. Well, I
think I'll turn in now, Rainsford."
"I'm not sleepy," said Rainsford. "I'm going to smoke another
pipe up on the afterdeck."
"Good night, then, Rainsford. See you at breakfast."
"Right. Good night, Whitney."
There was no sound in the night as Rainsford sat there but
the muffled throb of the engine that drove the yacht swiftly
through the darkness, and the swish and ripple of the wash of
Rainsford, reclining in a steamer chair, indolently puffed on
his favorite brier. The sensuous drowsiness of the night was on
him. "It's so dark," he thought, "that I could sleep without closing
my eyes; the night would be my eyelids—"
An abrupt sound startled him. Off to the right he heard it,
and his ears, expert in such matters, could not be mistaken.
Again he heard the sound, and again. Somewhere, off in the
blackness, someone had fired a gun three times.
Rainsford sprang up and moved quickly to the rail, mystified.
He strained his eyes in the direction from which the reports
had come, but it was like trying to see through a blanket. He
leaped upon the rail and balanced himself there, to get greater
elevation; his pipe, striking a rope, was knocked from his
mouth. He lunged for it; a short, hoarse cry came from his lips
as he realized he had reached too far and had lost his balance.
The cry was pinched off short as the blood-warm waters of the
Caribbean Sea closed over his head.
He struggled up to the surface and tried to cry out, but the
wash from the speeding yacht slapped him in the face and the
salt water in his open mouth made him gag and strangle. Desperately
he struck out with strong strokes after the receding
lights of the yacht, but he stopped before he had swum fifty
feet. A certain coolheadedness had come to him; it was not the
first time he had been in a tight place. There was a chance that
his cries could be heard by someone aboard the yacht, but that
chance was slender and grew more slender as the yacht raced
on. He wrestled himself out of his clothes and shouted with all
his power. The lights of the yacht became faint and ever-vanishing
fireflies; then they were blotted out entirely by the
Rainsford remembered the shots. They had come from the
right, and doggedly he swam in that direction, swimming with
slow, deliberate strokes, conserving his strength. For a seemingly
endless time he fought the sea. He began to count his
strokes; he could do possibly a hundred more and then—
Rainsford heard a sound. It came out of the darkness, a high
screaming sound, the sound of an animal in an extremity of anguish
He did not recognize the animal that made the sound; he did
not try to; with fresh vitality he swam toward the sound. He
heard it again; then it was cut short by another noise, crisp,
"Pistol shot," muttered Rainsford, swimming on.
Ten minutes of determined effort brought another sound to
his ears—the most welcome he had ever heard—the muttering
and growling of the sea breaking on a rocky shore. He was almost
on the rocks before he saw them; on a night less calm he
would have been shattered against them. With his remaining
strength he dragged himself from the swirling waters. Jagged
crags appeared to jut up into the opaqueness; he forced himself
upward, hand over hand. Gasping, his hands raw, he
reached a flat place at the top. Dense jungle came down to the
very edge of the cliffs. What perils that tangle of trees and underbrush
might hold for him did not concern Rainsford just
then. All he knew was that he was safe from his enemy, the
sea, and that utter weariness was on him. He flung himself
down at the jungle edge and tumbled headlong into the deepest
sleep of his life.
When he opened his eyes he knew from the position of the
sun that it was late in the afternoon. Sleep had given him new
vigor; a sharp hunger was picking at him. He looked about
him, almost cheerfully.
"Where there are pistol shots, there are men. Where there
are men, there is food," he thought. But what kind of men, he
wondered, in so forbidding a place? An unbroken front of
snarled and ragged jungle fringed the shore.
He saw no sign of a trail through the closely knit web of
weeds and trees; it was easier to go along the shore, and
Rainsford floundered along by the water. Not far from where
he landed, he stopped.
Some wounded thing—by the evidence, a large animal—had
thrashed about in the underbrush; the jungle weeds were
crushed down and the moss was lacerated; one patch of weeds
was stained crimson. A small, glittering object not far away
caught Rainsford's eye and he picked it up. It was an empty
"A twenty-two," he remarked. "That's odd. It must have been
a fairly large animal too. The hunter had his nerve with him to
tackle it with a light gun. It's clear that the brute put up a
fight. I suppose the first three shots I heard was when the
hunter flushed his quarry and wounded it. The last shot was
when he trailed it here and finished it."
He examined the ground closely and found what he had
hoped to find—the print of hunting boots. They pointed along
the cliff in the direction he had been going. Eagerly he hurried
along, now slipping on a rotten log or a loose stone, but making
headway; night was beginning to settle down on the island.
Bleak darkness was blacking out the sea and jungle when
Rainsford sighted the lights. He came upon them as he turned
a crook in the coast line; and his first thought was that be had
come upon a village, for there were many lights. But as he
forged along he saw to his great astonishment that all the
lights were in one enormous building—a lofty structure with
pointed towers plunging upward into the gloom. His eyes made
out the shadowy outlines of a palatial chateau; it was set on a
high bluff, and on three sides of it cliffs dived down to where
the sea licked greedy lips in the shadows.
"Mirage," thought Rainsford. But it was no mirage, he found,
when he opened the tall spiked iron gate. The stone steps were
real enough; the massive door with a leering gargoyle for a
knocker was real enough; yet above it all hung an air of
He lifted the knocker, and it creaked up stiffly, as if it had
never before been used. He let it fall, and it startled him with
its booming loudness. He thought he heard steps within; the
door remained closed. Again Rainsford lifted the heavy knocker,
and let it fall. The door opened then—opened as suddenly
as if it were on a spring—and Rainsford stood blinking in the
river of glaring gold light that poured out. The first thing
Rainsford's eyes discerned was the largest man Rainsford had
ever seen—a gigantic creature, solidly made and black bearded
to the waist. In his hand the man held a long-barreled revolver,
and he was pointing it straight at Rainsford's heart.
Out of the snarl of beard two small eyes regarded Rainsford.
"Don't be alarmed," said Rainsford, with a smile which he
hoped was disarming. "I'm no robber. I fell off a yacht. My
name is Sanger Rainsford of New York City."
The menacing look in the eyes did not change. The revolver
pointing as rigidly as if the giant were a statue. He gave no
sign that he understood Rainsford's words, or that he had even
heard them. He was dressed in uniform—a black uniform
trimmed with gray astrakhan.
"I'm Sanger Rainsford of New York," Rainsford began again.
"I fell off a yacht. I am hungry."
The man's only answer was to raise with his thumb the hammer
of his revolver. Then Rainsford saw the man's free hand go
to his forehead in a military salute, and he saw him click his
heels together and stand at attention. Another man was coming
down the broad marble steps, an erect, slender man in
evening clothes. He advanced to Rainsford and held out his
In a cultivated voice marked by a slight accent that gave it
added precision and deliberateness, he said, "It is a very great
pleasure and honor to welcome Mr. Sanger Rainsford, the celebrated
hunter, to my home."
Automatically Rainsford shook the man's hand.
"I've read your book about hunting snow leopards in Tibet,
you see," explained the man. "I am General Zaroff."
Rainsford's first impression was that the man was singularly
handsome; his second was that there was an original, almost
bizarre quality about the general's face. He was a tall man past
middle age, for his hair was a vivid white; but his thick eyebrows
and pointed military mustache were as black as the
night from which Rainsford had come. His eyes, too, were
black and very bright. He had high cheekbones, a sharpcut
nose, a spare, dark face—the face of a man used to giving orders,
the face of an aristocrat. Turning to the giant in uniform,
the general made a sign. The giant put away his pistol, saluted,
"Ivan is an incredibly strong fellow," remarked the general,
"but he has the misfortune to be deaf and dumb. A simple fellow,
but, I'm afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage."
"Is he Russian?"
"He is a Cossack," said the general, and his smile showed red
lips and pointed teeth. "So am I."
"Come," he said, "we shouldn't be chatting here. We can talk
later. Now you want clothes, food, rest. You shall have them.
This is a most-restful spot."
Ivan had reappeared, and the general spoke to him with lips
that moved but gave forth no sound.
"Follow Ivan, if you please, Mr. Rainsford," said the general.
"I was about to have my dinner when you came. I'll wait for
you. You'll find that my clothes will fit you, I think."
It was to a huge, beam-ceilinged bedroom with a canopied
bed big enough for six men that Rainsford followed the silent
giant. Ivan laid out an evening suit, and Rainsford, as he put it
on, noticed that it came from a London tailor who ordinarily
cut and sewed for none below the rank of duke.
The dining room to which Ivan conducted him was in many
ways remarkable. There was a medieval magnificence about it;
it suggested a baronial hall of feudal times with its oaken
panels, its high ceiling, its vast refectory tables where twoscore
men could sit down to eat. About the hall were mounted
heads of many animals—lions, tigers, elephants, moose, bears;
larger or more perfect specimens Rainsford had never seen. At
the great table the general was sitting, alone.
"You'll have a cocktail, Mr. Rainsford," he suggested. The
cocktail was surpassingly good; and, Rainsford noted, the table
appointments were of the finest—the linen, the crystal, the silver,
They were eating borsch, the rich, red soup with whipped
cream so dear to Russian palates. Half apologetically General
Zaroff said, "We do our best to preserve the amenities of civilization
here. Please forgive any lapses. We are well off the
beaten track, you know. Do you think the champagne has
suffered from its long ocean trip?"
"Not in the least," declared Rainsford. He was finding the
general a most thoughtful and affable host, a true cosmopolite.
But there was one small trait of the general's that made
Rainsford uncomfortable. Whenever he looked up from his
plate he found the general studying him, appraising him
"Perhaps," said General Zaroff, "you were surprised that I recognized
your name. You see, I read all books on hunting published
in English, French, and Russian. I have but one passion
in my life, Mr. Rainsford, and it is the hunt."
"You have some wonderful heads here," said Rainsford as he
ate a particularly well-cooked filet mignon. "That Cape buffalo
is the largest I ever saw."
"Oh, that fellow. Yes, he was a monster."
"Did he charge you?"
"Hurled me against a tree," said the general. "Fractured my
skull. But I got the brute."
"I've always thought," said Rainsford, "that the Cape buffalo
is the most dangerous of all big game."
For a moment the general did not reply; he was smiling his
curious red-lipped smile. Then he said slowly, "No. You are
wrong, sir. The Cape buffalo is not the most dangerous big
game." He sipped his wine. "Here in my preserve on this island,"
he said in the same slow tone, "I hunt more dangerous
Rainsford expressed his surprise. "Is there big game on this
The general nodded. "The biggest."
"Oh, it isn't here naturally, of course. I have to stock the
"What have you imported, general?" Rainsford asked.
The general smiled. "No," he said. "Hunting tigers ceased to
interest me some years ago. I exhausted their possibilities, you
see. No thrill left in tigers, no real danger. I live for danger,
The general took from his pocket a gold cigarette case and
offered his guest a long black cigarette with a silver tip; it was
perfumed and gave off a smell like incense.
"We will have some capital hunting, you and I," said the general.
"I shall be most glad to have your society."
"But what game—" began Rainsford.
"I'll tell you," said the general. "You will be amused, I know. I
think I may say, in all modesty, that I have done a rare thing. I
have invented a new sensation. May I pour you another glass of
"Thank you, general."
The general filled both glasses, and said, "God makes some
men poets. Some He makes kings, some beggars. Me He made
a hunter. My hand was made for the trigger, my father said. He
was a very rich man with a quarter of a million acres in the
Crimea, and he was an ardent sportsman. When I was only five
years old he gave me a little gun, specially made in Moscow for
me, to shoot sparrows with. When I shot some of his prize turkeys
with it, he did not punish me; he complimented me on my
marksmanship. I killed my first bear in the Caucasus when I
was ten. My whole life has been one prolonged hunt. I went into
the army—it was expected of noblemen's sons—and for a
time commanded a division of Cossack cavalry, but my real interest
was always the hunt. I have hunted every kind of game
in every land. It would be impossible for me to tell you how
many animals I have killed."
The general puffed at his cigarette.
"After the debacle in Russia I left the country, for it was imprudent
for an officer of the Czar to stay there. Many noble
Russians lost everything. I, luckily, had invested heavily in
American securities, so I shall never have to open a tearoom in
Monte Carlo or drive a taxi in Paris. Naturally, I continued to
hunt—grizzlies in your Rockies, crocodiles in the Ganges,
rhinoceroses in East Africa. It was in Africa that the Cape buffalo
hit me and laid me up for six months. As soon as I recovered
I started for the Amazon to hunt jaguars, for I had
heard they were unusually cunning. They weren't." The Cossack
sighed. "They were no match at all for a hunter with his
wits about him, and a high-powered rifle. I was bitterly disappointed.
I was lying in my tent with a splitting headache one
night when a terrible thought pushed its way into my mind.
Hunting was beginning to bore me! And hunting, remember,
had been my life. I have heard that in America businessmen often
go to pieces when they give up the business that has been
"Yes, that's so," said Rainsford.
The general smiled. "I had no wish to go to pieces," he said.
"I must do something. Now, mine is an analytical mind, Mr.
Rainsford. Doubtless that is why I enjoy the problems of the
"No doubt, General Zaroff."
"So," continued the general, "I asked myself why the hunt no
longer fascinated me. You are much younger than I am, Mr.
Rainsford, and have not hunted as much, but you perhaps can
guess the answer."
"What was it?"
"Simply this: hunting had ceased to be what you call `a sporting
proposition.' It had become too easy. I always got my
quarry. Always. There is no greater bore than perfection."
The general lit a fresh cigarette.
"No animal had a chance with me any more. That is no boast;
it is a mathematical certainty. The animal had nothing but his
legs and his instinct. Instinct is no match for reason. When I
thought of this it was a tragic moment for me, I can tell you."
Rainsford leaned across the table, absorbed in what his host
"It came to me as an inspiration what I must do," the general
"And that was?"
The general smiled the quiet smile of one who has faced an
obstacle and surmounted it with success. "I had to invent a
new animal to hunt," he said.
"A new animal? You're joking." "Not at all," said the general.
"I never joke about hunting. I needed a new animal. I found
one. So I bought this island, built this house, and here I do my
hunting. The island is perfect for my purposes—there are
jungles with a maze of traits in them, hills, swamps—"
"But the animal, General Zaroff?"
"Oh," said the general, "it supplies me with the most exciting
hunting in the world. No other hunting compares with it for an
instant. Every day I hunt, and I never grow bored now, for I
have a quarry with which I can match my wits."
Rainsford's bewilderment showed in his face.
"I wanted the ideal animal to hunt," explained the general.
"So I said, `What are the attributes of an ideal quarry?' And the
answer was, of course, `It must have courage, cunning, and,
above all, it must be able to reason.'"
"But no animal can reason," objected Rainsford.
"My dear fellow," said the general, "there is one that can."
"But you can't mean—" gasped Rainsford.
"And why not?"
"I can't believe you are serious, General Zaroff. This is a
"Why should I not be serious? I am speaking of hunting."
"Hunting? Great Guns, General Zaroff, what you speak of is
The general laughed with entire good nature. He regarded
Rainsford quizzically. "I refuse to believe that so modern and
civilized a young man as you seem to be harbors romantic
ideas about the value of human life. Surely your experiences in
"Did not make me condone cold-blooded murder," finished
Laughter shook the general. "How extraordinarily droll you
are!" he said. "One does not expect nowadays to find a young
man of the educated class, even in America, with such a naive,
and, if I may say so, mid-Victorian point of view. It's like finding
a snuffbox in a limousine. Ah, well, doubtless you had Puritan
ancestors. So many Americans appear to have had. I'll
wager you'll forget your notions when you go hunting with me.
You've a genuine new thrill in store for you, Mr. Rainsford."
"Thank you, I'm a hunter, not a murderer."
"Dear me," said the general, quite unruffled, "again that unpleasant
word. But I think I can show you that your scruples
are quite ill founded."
"Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs
be, taken by the strong. The weak of the world were put here
to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use
my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should I not? I hunt the scum of
the earth: sailors from tramp ships—lascars, blacks, Chinese,
whites, mongrels—a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth
more than a score of them."
"But they are men," said Rainsford hotly.
"Precisely," said the general. "That is why I use them. It gives
me pleasure. They can reason, after a fashion. So they are
"But where do you get them?"
The general's left eyelid fluttered down in a wink. "This island
is called Ship Trap," he answered. "Sometimes an angry
god of the high seas sends them to me. Sometimes, when
Providence is not so kind, I help Providence a bit. Come to the
window with me."
Rainsford went to the window and looked out toward the sea.
"Watch! Out there!" exclaimed the general, pointing into the
night. Rainsford's eyes saw only blackness, and then, as the
general pressed a button, far out to sea Rainsford saw the flash
The general chuckled. "They indicate a channel," he said,
"where there's none; giant rocks with razor edges crouch like a
sea monster with wide-open jaws. They can crush a ship as easily
as I crush this nut." He dropped a walnut on the hardwood
floor and brought his heel grinding down on it. "Oh, yes," he
said, casually, as if in answer to a question, "I have electricity.
We try to be civilized here."
"Civilized? And you shoot down men?"
A trace of anger was in the general's black eyes, but it was
there for but a second; and he said, in his most pleasant manner,
"Dear me, what a righteous young man you are! I assure
you I do not do the thing you suggest. That would be barbarous.
I treat these visitors with every consideration. They get
plenty of good food and exercise. They get into splendid physical
condition. You shall see for yourself tomorrow."
"What do you mean?"
"We'll visit my training school," smiled the general. "It's in
the cellar. I have about a dozen pupils down there now. They're
from the Spanish bark San Lucar that had the bad luck to go
on the rocks out there. A very inferior lot, I regret to say. Poor
specimens and more accustomed to the deck than to the
jungle." He raised his hand, and Ivan, who served as waiter,
brought thick Turkish coffee. Rainsford, with an effort, held his
tongue in check.
"It's a game, you see," pursued the general blandly. "I suggest
to one of them that we go hunting. I give him a supply of
food and an excellent hunting knife. I give him three hours'
start. I am to follow, armed only with a pistol of the smallest
caliber and range. If my quarry eludes me for three whole
days, he wins the game. If I find him"—the general smiled—"he
"Suppose he refuses to be hunted?"
"Oh," said the general, "I give him his option, of course. He
need not play that game if he doesn't wish to. If he does not
wish to hunt, I turn him over to Ivan. Ivan once had the honor
of serving as official knouter to the Great White Czar, and he
has his own ideas of sport. Invariably, Mr. Rainsford, invariably
they choose the hunt."
"And if they win?"
The smile on the general's face widened. "To date I have not
lost," he said. Then he added, hastily: "I don't wish you to think
me a braggart, Mr. Rainsford. Many of them afford only the
most elementary sort of problem. Occasionally I strike a tartar.
One almost did win. I eventually had to use the dogs."
"This way, please. I'll show you."
The general steered Rainsford to a window. The lights from
the windows sent a flickering illumination that made grotesque
patterns on the courtyard below, and Rainsford could see moving
about there a dozen or so huge black shapes; as they
turned toward him, their eyes glittered greenly.
"A rather good lot, I think," observed the general. "They are
let out at seven every night. If anyone should try to get into my
house—or out of it—something extremely regrettable would occur
to him." He hummed a snatch of song from the Folies
"And now," said the general, "I want to show you my new collection
of heads. Will you come with me to the library?"
"I hope," said Rainsford, "that you will excuse me tonight,
General Zaroff. I'm really not feeling well."
"Ah, indeed?" the general inquired solicitously. "Well, I suppose
that's only natural, after your long swim. You need a
good, restful night's sleep. Tomorrow you'll feel like a new
man, I'll wager. Then we'll hunt, eh? I've one rather promising
prospect—" Rainsford was hurrying from the room.
"Sorry you can't go with me tonight," called the general. "I
expect rather fair sport—a big, strong, black. He looks resourceful—Well,
good night, Mr. Rainsford; I hope you have a
good night's rest."
The bed was good, and the pajamas of the softest silk, and he
was tired in every fiber of his being, but nevertheless Rainsford
could not quiet his brain with the opiate of sleep. He lay, eyes
wide open. Once he thought he heard stealthy steps in the corridor
outside his room. He sought to throw open the door; it
would not open. He went to the window and looked out. His
room was high up in one of the towers. The lights of the chateau
were out now, and it was dark and silent; but there was a
fragment of sallow moon, and by its wan light he could see,
dimly, the courtyard. There, weaving in and out in the pattern
of shadow, were black, noiseless forms; the hounds heard him
at the window and looked up, expectantly, with their green
eyes. Rainsford went back to the bed and lay down. By many
methods he tried to put himself to sleep. He had achieved a
doze when, just as morning began to come, he heard, far off in
the jungle, the faint report of a pistol.
General Zaroff did not appear until luncheon. He was
dressed faultlessly in the tweeds of a country squire. He was
solicitous about the state of Rainsford's health.
"As for me," sighed the general, "I do not feel so well. I am
worried, Mr. Rainsford. Last night I detected traces of my old
To Rainsford's questioning glance the general said, "Ennui.
Then, taking a second helping of crêpes Suzette, the general
explained: "The hunting was not good last night. The fellow
lost his head. He made a straight trail that offered no problems
at all. That's the trouble with these sailors; they have dull
brains to begin with, and they do not know how to get about in
the woods. They do excessively stupid and obvious things. It's
most annoying. Will you have another glass of Chablis, Mr.
"General," said Rainsford firmly, "I wish to leave this island
The general raised his thickets of eyebrows; he seemed hurt.
"But, my dear fellow," the general protested, "you've only just
come. You've had no hunting—"
"I wish to go today," said Rainsford. He saw the dead black
eyes of the general on him, studying him. General Zaroff's face
He filled Rainsford's glass with venerable Chablis from a
"Tonight," said the general, "we will hunt—you and I."
Rainsford shook his head. "No, general," he said. "I will not
The general shrugged his shoulders and delicately ate a hothouse
grape. "As you wish, my friend," he said. "The choice
rests entirely with you. But may I not venture to suggest that
you will find my idea of sport more diverting than Ivan's?"
He nodded toward the corner to where the giant stood,
scowling, his thick arms crossed on his hogshead of chest.
"You don't mean—" cried Rainsford.
"My dear fellow," said the general, "have I not told you I always
mean what I say about hunting? This is really an inspiration.
I drink to a foeman worthy of my steel—at last." The general
raised his glass, but Rainsford sat staring at him.
"You'll find this game worth playing," the general said enthusiastically.
"Your brain against mine. Your woodcraft against
mine. Your strength and stamina against mine. Outdoor chess!
And the stake is not without value, eh?"
"And if I win—" began Rainsford huskily.
"I'll cheerfully acknowledge myself defeat if I do not find you
by midnight of the third day," said General Zaroff. "My sloop
will place you on the mainland near a town." The general read
what Rainsford was thinking.
"Oh, you can trust me," said the Cossack. "I will give you my
word as a gentleman and a sportsman. Of course you, in turn,
must agree to say nothing of your visit here."
"I'll agree to nothing of the kind," said Rainsford.
"Oh," said the general, "in that case—But why discuss that
now? Three days hence we can discuss it over a bottle of Veuve
The general sipped his wine.
Then a businesslike air animated him. "Ivan," he said to
Rainsford, "will supply you with hunting clothes, food, a knife. I
suggest you wear moccasins; they leave a poorer trail. I suggest,
too, that you avoid the big swamp in the southeast corner
of the island. We call it Death Swamp. There's quicksand there.
One foolish fellow tried it. The deplorable part of it was that
Lazarus followed him. You can imagine my feelings, Mr.
Rainsford. I loved Lazarus; he was the finest hound in my pack.
Well, I must beg you to excuse me now. I always take a siesta
after lunch. You'll hardly have time for a nap, I fear. You'll
want to start, no doubt. I shall not follow till dusk. Hunting at
night is so much more exciting than by day, don't you think? Au
revoir, Mr. Rainsford, au revoir." General Zaroff, with a deep,
courtly bow, strolled from the room.
From another door came Ivan. Under one arm he carried
khaki hunting clothes, a haversack of food, a leather sheath
containing a long-bladed hunting knife; his right hand rested
on a cocked revolver thrust in the crimson sash about his
Rainsford had fought his way through the bush for two
hours. "I must keep my nerve. I must keep my nerve," he said
through tight teeth.
He had not been entirely clearheaded when the chateau
gates snapped shut behind him. His whole idea at first was to
put distance between himself and General Zaroff; and, to this
end, he had plunged along, spurred on by the sharp rowers of
something very like panic. Now he had got a grip on himself,
had stopped, and was taking stock of himself and the situation.
He saw that straight flight was futile; inevitably it would bring
him face to face with the sea. He was in a picture with a frame
of water, and his operations, clearly, must take place within
"I'll give him a trail to follow," muttered Rainsford, and he
struck off from the rude path he had been following into the
trackless wilderness. He executed a series of intricate loops;
he doubled on his trail again and again, recalling all the lore of
the fox hunt, and all the dodges of the fox. Night found him legweary,
with hands and face lashed by the branches, on a
thickly wooded ridge. He knew it would be insane to blunder
on through the dark, even if he had the strength. His need for
rest was imperative and he thought, "I have played the fox,
now I must play the cat of the fable." A big tree with a thick
trunk and outspread branches was near by, and, taking care to
leave not the slightest mark, he climbed up into the crotch,
and, stretching out on one of the broad limbs, after a fashion,
rested. Rest brought him new confidence and almost a feeling
of security. Even so zealous a hunter as General Zaroff could
not trace him there, he told himself; only the devil himself
could follow that complicated trail through the jungle after
dark. But perhaps the general was a devil—
An apprehensive night crawled slowly by like a wounded
snake and sleep did not visit Rainsford, although the silence of
a dead world was on the jungle. Toward morning when a dingy
gray was varnishing the sky, the cry of some startled bird focused
Rainsford's attention in that direction. Something was
coming through the bush, coming slowly, carefully, coming by
the same winding way Rainsford had come. He flattened himself
down on the limb and, through a screen of leaves almost as
thick as tapestry, he watched… . That which was approaching
was a man.
It was General Zaroff. He made his way along with his eyes
fixed in utmost concentration on the ground before him. He
paused, almost beneath the tree, dropped to his knees and
studied the ground. Rainsford's impulse was to hurl himself
down like a panther, but he saw that the general's right hand
held something metallic—a small automatic pistol.
The hunter shook his head several times, as if he were
puzzled. Then he straightened up and took from his case one of
his black cigarettes; its pungent incenselike smoke floated up
to Rainsford's nostrils.
Rainsford held his breath. The general's eyes had left the
ground and were traveling inch by inch up the tree. Rainsford
froze there, every muscle tensed for a spring. But the sharp
eyes of the hunter stopped before they reached the limb where
Rainsford lay; a smile spread over his brown face. Very deliberately
he blew a smoke ring into the air; then he turned his back
on the tree and walked carelessly away, back along the trail he
had come. The swish of the underbrush against his hunting
boots grew fainter and fainter.
The pent-up air burst hotly from Rainsford's lungs. His first
thought made him feel sick and numb. The general could follow
a trail through the woods at night; he could follow an extremely
difficult trail; he must have uncanny powers; only by
the merest chance had the Cossack failed to see his quarry.
Rainsford's second thought was even more terrible. It sent a
shudder of cold horror through his whole being. Why had the
general smiled? Why had he turned back?
Rainsford did not want to believe what his reason told him
was true, but the truth was as evident as the sun that had by
now pushed through the morning mists. The general was playing
with him! The general was saving him for another day's
sport! The Cossack was the cat; he was the mouse. Then it was
that Rainsford knew the full meaning of terror.
"I will not lose my nerve. I will not."
He slid down from the tree, and struck off again into the
woods. His face was set and he forced the machinery of his
mind to function. Three hundred yards from his hiding place he
stopped where a huge dead tree leaned precariously on a smaller,
living one. Throwing off his sack of food, Rainsford took his
knife from its sheath and began to work with all his energy.
The job was finished at last, and he threw himself down behind
a fallen log a hundred feet away. He did not have to wait
long. The cat was coming again to play with the mouse.
Following the trail with the sureness of a bloodhound came
General Zaroff. Nothing escaped those searching black eyes,
no crushed blade of grass, no bent twig, no mark, no matter
how faint, in the moss. So intent was the Cossack on his stalking
that he was upon the thing Rainsford had made before he
saw it. His foot touched the protruding bough that was the trigger.
Even as he touched it, the general sensed his danger and
leaped back with the agility of an ape. But he was not quite
quick enough; the dead tree, delicately adjusted to rest on the
cut living one, crashed down and struck the general a glancing
blow on the shoulder as it fell; but for his alertness, he must
have been smashed beneath it. He staggered, but he did not
fall; nor did he drop his revolver. He stood there, rubbing his
injured shoulder, and Rainsford, with fear again gripping his
heart, heard the general's mocking laugh ring through the
"Rainsford," called the general, "if you are within sound of
my voice, as I suppose you are, let me congratulate you. Not
many men know how to make a Malay mancatcher. Luckily for
me I, too, have hunted in Malacca. You are proving interesting,
Mr. Rainsford. I am going now to have my wound dressed; it's
only a slight one. But I shall be back. I shall be back."
When the general, nursing his bruised shoulder, had gone,
Rainsford took up his flight again. It was flight now, a desperate,
hopeless flight, that carried him on for some hours. Dusk
came, then darkness, and still he pressed on. The ground grew
softer under his moccasins; the vegetation grew ranker, denser;
insects bit him savagely.
Then, as he stepped forward, his foot sank into the ooze. He
tried to wrench it back, but the muck sucked viciously at his
foot as if it were a giant leech. With a violent effort, he tore his
feet loose. He knew where he was now. Death Swamp and its
His hands were tight closed as if his nerve were something
tangible that someone in the darkness was trying to tear from
his grip. The softness of the earth had given him an idea. He
stepped back from the quicksand a dozen feet or so and, like
some huge prehistoric beaver, he began to dig.
Rainsford had dug himself in in France when a second's
delay meant death. That had been a placid pastime compared
to his digging now. The pit grew deeper; when it was above his
shoulders, he climbed out and from some hard saplings cut
stakes and sharpened them to a fine point. These stakes he
planted in the bottom of the pit with the points sticking up.
With flying fingers he wove a rough carpet of weeds and
branches and with it he covered the mouth of the pit. Then,
wet with sweat and aching with tiredness, he crouched behind
the stump of a lightning-charred tree.
He knew his pursuer was coming; he heard the padding
sound of feet on the soft earth, and the night breeze brought
him the perfume of the general's cigarette. It seemed to
Rainsford that the general was coming with unusual swiftness;
he was not feeling his way along, foot by foot. Rainsford,
crouching there, could not see the general, nor could he see
the pit. He lived a year in a minute. Then he felt an impulse to
cry aloud with joy, for he heard the sharp crackle of the breaking
branches as the cover of the pit gave way; he heard the
sharp scream of pain as the pointed stakes found their mark.
He leaped up from his place of concealment. Then he cowered
back. Three feet from the pit a man was standing, with an electric
torch in his hand.
"You've done well, Rainsford," the voice of the general called.
"Your Burmese tiger pit has claimed one of my best dogs.
Again you score. I think, Mr. Rainsford, I'll see what you can do
against my whole pack. I'm going home for a rest now. Thank
you for a most amusing evening."
At daybreak Rainsford, lying near the swamp, was awakened
by a sound that made him know that he had new things to
learn about fear. It was a distant sound, faint and wavering,
but he knew it. It was the baying of a pack of hounds.
Rainsford knew he could do one of two things. He could stay
where he was and wait. That was suicide. He could flee. That
was postponing the inevitable. For a moment he stood there,
thinking. An idea that held a wild chance came to him, and,
tightening his belt, he headed away from the swamp.
The baying of the hounds drew nearer, then still nearer,
nearer, ever nearer. On a ridge Rainsford climbed a tree. Down
a watercourse, not a quarter of a mile away, he could see the
bush moving. Straining his eyes, he saw the lean figure of General
Zaroff; just ahead of him Rainsford made out another
figure whose wide shoulders surged through the tall jungle
weeds; it was the giant Ivan, and he seemed pulled forward by
some unseen force; Rainsford knew that Ivan must be holding
the pack in leash.
They would be on him any minute now. His mind worked
frantically. He thought of a native trick he had learned in
Uganda. He slid down the tree. He caught hold of a springy
young sapling and to it he fastened his hunting knife, with the
blade pointing down the trail; with a bit of wild grapevine he
tied back the sapling. Then he ran for his life. The hounds
raised their voices as they hit the fresh scent. Rainsford knew
now how an animal at bay feels.
He had to stop to get his breath. The baying of the hounds
stopped abruptly, and Rainsford's heart stopped too. They
must have reached the knife.
He shinned excitedly up a tree and looked back. His pursuers
had stopped. But the hope that was in Rainsford's brain when
he climbed died, for he saw in the shallow valley that General
Zaroff was still on his feet. But Ivan was not. The knife, driven
by the recoil of the springing tree, had not wholly failed.
Rainsford had hardly tumbled to the ground when the pack
took up the cry again.
"Nerve, nerve, nerve!" he panted, as he dashed along. A blue
gap showed between the trees dead ahead. Ever nearer drew
the hounds. Rainsford forced himself on toward that gap. He
reached it. It was the shore of the sea. Across a cove he could
see the gloomy gray stone of the chateau. Twenty feet below
him the sea rumbled and hissed. Rainsford hesitated. He heard
the hounds. Then he leaped far out into the sea…
When the general and his pack reached the place by the sea,
the Cossack stopped. For some minutes he stood regarding the
blue-green expanse of water. He shrugged his shoulders. Then
be sat down, took a drink of brandy from a silver flask, lit a cigarette,
and hummed a bit from Madame Butterfly.
General Zaroff had an exceedingly good dinner in his great
paneled dining hall that evening. With it he had a bottle of Pol
Roger and half a bottle of Chambertin. Two slight annoyances
kept him from perfect enjoyment. One was the thought that it
would be difficult to replace Ivan; the other was that his quarry
had escaped him; of course, the American hadn't played the
game—so thought the general as he tasted his after-dinner liqueur.
In his library he read, to soothe himself, from the works
of Marcus Aurelius. At ten he went up to his bedroom. He was
deliciously tired, he said to himself, as he locked himself in.
There was a little moonlight, so, before turning on his light, he
went to the window and looked down at the courtyard. He
could see the great hounds, and he called, "Better luck another
time," to them. Then he switched on the light.
A man, who had been hiding in the curtains of the bed, was
"Rainsford!" screamed the general. "How in God's name did
you get here?"
"Swam," said Rainsford. "I found it quicker than walking
through the jungle."
The general sucked in his breath and smiled. "I congratulate
you," he said. "You have won the game."
Rainsford did not smile. "I am still a beast at bay," he said, in
a low, hoarse voice. "Get ready, General Zaroff."
The general made one of his deepest bows. "I see," he said.
"Splendid! One of us is to furnish a repast for the hounds. The
other will sleep in this very excellent bed. On guard,
He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.
Thank you for reading!
We can keep Inkspired for free by displaying Ads to our visitors. Please, support us by whitelisting or deactivating the AdBlocker.
After doing it, please reload the website to continue using Inkspired normally.